“I’ll Never Flip-Flop,” And Other Lies
It’s been a minute, kids.
After about 650 miles, Tree Hugger has been sidelined for 9 days. The heavy pack I carried early on exacerbated an injury from 2018, and I had to get off trail to wait for some steroid injections in the hope of continuing on.
I received one of the shots in Roanoke a couple of days ago, and it’s feeling better, but my insurance won’t cover the other two (facet joint) shots the doc ordered.
Don’t get me started on privatized health care.
Like always, though, the trail provides.
In this instance, it was a ride from my hotel in Roanoke to the clinic, then a ride back, since I couldn’t drive after the injection.
A safe place to rest and recover from the procedure would have been nice, too, and wouldn’t you know it?
Rich Atwood delivered once again. It’s like I have my own, personal trail angel.
Rich—coordinator extraordinaire for one of the volunteer camps that builds the Appalachian Trail—offered to once again swoop in and help out.
His phenomenal daughter, Rebecca, was my student years ago, and she put us in touch when she found out about my AT hike.
Rich contacted me and offered to assist me if I needed it, and hoo boy! I have needed it.
Ever the gentleman and devoted friend, Rich has jumped in at every opportunity to take care of me.
Anyway, I’ll be flying up to Maine soon and completing my thru hike as a Flip-Flop.
This is not what I wanted.
It’s not what I dreamed of the last 30 years; in fact, I swore I would finish northbound if I had to crawl to Mama K.
But at this point, a flip-flop is my best hope for finishing. I don’t want to take the chance of arriving in Maine too late to summit Katahdin, and so here I am.
I trust the trail.
Never say “never,” I guess.
I’ve learned a great deal on this trip—about myself, about the nature of humankind, about the natural world.
Brace yourself, I’m about to quote Thoreau again.
Henry David famously “went to the woods…to live deliberately.”
Here’s the full quote, though, that you may not be as familiar with:
I think it’s the perfect description of an Appalachian Trail Thru hike (or any backpacking trip). We do live “Spartan-like,” and for myself, I can say I’ve definitely sucked the marrow out of life these last few months.
Not a single opportunity to try something new has slipped through my fingers.
Every miraculous vista and moment of beauty was pondered and absorbed. Ancient trees were appreciated and embraced—both literally and figuratively. White blazes were high-fived. Affirmative responses were given to every experiential option.
I just said “yes” over and over again.
Even when it scared me.
Even when it meant choosing something scary or making choices I swore I wouldn’t.
Most importantly, I let myself make choices that made me emotionally vulnerable, which—let’s be real here—is the scariest experience of all for me.
I highly recommend it. Open yourself up a little. Trust someone when you can. Be a person others can trust and who they can feel emotionally safe with. That’s how connections are made.
I’ve learned to bend a little. To be a little less stubborn and more thoughtful.
But I’ll keep some impulsiveness and a smidge of recklessness, thanks
I’ve been called strong because I’ve pushed past some physical and mental challenges; but also because I’ve learned how to appear at least a little bit emotionally strong. But my emotional strength has always been pure theater—thank you, thank you, I’ll take a bow for that one.
But for real, physical and mental strength are pretty easy to acquire when you compare them to overcoming emotional scars.
This hike has taught me to step outside my normal for the last 100 days, and I’ve discovered life is different out here beyond my emotional fear bubble. It’s. . . better.
What a tiny world we put ourselves in when we’re afraid, when we draw unhealthy boundaries around ourselves to stay emotionally safe, ie. to avoid being made to look foolish, being laughed at, criticized, or the biggie—to avoid having our hearts broken.
And it took a drastic break from my life—a (so far) 650 mile hike in the wilderness to make me see the walls of the tiny emotional house I’d built around my heart.
And it’s a sturdy-ass house, my friends—built to last. Mortared with titanium and insecurity.
And it leaves no room to breathe.
It took me every single one of those 650 miles to recognize and start to dismantle that house.
But, oh the rich life that waited outside.
It will be a life-long process, I know, to keep living outside the emotional safety zone, but I’m here to tell you, it’s worth the effort.
Were I to attempt a Reader’s Digest Condensed version of my epiphanies so far about what it means to be alive and miraculously sentient on this unlikely planet, it would be this:
It’s the purpose of our existence.
Connection to the natural world; to our version of a higher power; to each other; and to ourselves—not just who are today, but also the person we were once upon a time.
Part of Thoreau’s purpose for his experiment was to “publish meanness to the world…or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it”.
This blog is my attempt to give a true account of what I’m discovering.
This is my account of it:
Life is sublime.
And living it fully means connecting to the Earth and to ourselves and to each other. Even when it’s hard. Even when it’s scary. Even when you might have your heart broken into tiny, little pieces.
And you can’t connect emotionally with other human beings—not really—unless you let your guard down. Unless you step outside the safety of your trauma-built house and look around a bit.
Even though it terrifies you.
Even though it might seem impossible.
Terrifying and impossible.
You know, like a 2,200 mile hike in the woods.
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As a now 10 year short a** section hiker who is a bit over 1/4th of the way to Katahdin, I say that you are doing wonderfully.